Listening Guide – Movement 2: Scherzo. Schnelle Viertel


Second movement we’ll call scherzo one is one of Mahler’s most original scherzo’s, intended at first to be a scherzo finale of a much shorter Symphony, this movement combines traditional scherzo trio formed with Sonata elements, and juxtaposes a scherzo section consisting of a metrically irregular subject presented in busy Neo-Baroque polyphony with a trio section based upon a metrically regular subject in lighter contrapuntal texture.
Frequent meter shifts in the scherzo sections from three-two, two-two, then to 5-4 and three-four, sit in a fast temple, anticipate Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps written only a few years later. Waltz and Lendler are contrasted and combined, as in the second movement of the ninth, but here one does not subvert the other, although they do share common elements while the scherzo sections two main themes display a playful bumptious character that recalls the first ländler of the Ninth Symphony second movement, they also display a slightly frenetic quality uncharacteristic of the traditional ländler the bitter irony and scathing mockery of the ninth scherzo, the rondo burlesque, seems far removed from scherzo one’s lighthearted frivolity and joie de vie, even if tinged with a trace of ferocity, particularly evident in the first subject, with its jabbing to beat punctuation after reading phrase. One also senses a likeness to the skirts of the sixth Symphony, an indication that Mahler0s inner demon again comes to the fore.

The A rhythmic first skeletal theme, with its skip-hop-hop-hop pulse that keeps changing metrically from bar to bar is like dance music gone awry, a crippled landler hobbling about unable to put one foot in front of the other to a steady pace. Despite the landler’s clumsiness, it Asserts itself with confidence. In contrast, the music of the trios, which Mahler directed to be played, and the character of a ländler is more like a waltz with churning triple meter rhythms. yodel like plunging figures, interjected, a note of crudity, abounding with joy the skirt so subject lacks any trace of that dizzy mayhem that characterize its counterpart in the fifth symphonies middle movement, while its feverish drive recalls the scherzo of the ninth. In contrast, the trio theme is more congenial and gay spirited, Mahler reverses the roles here played by waltz and landler, giving the latter a rhythmically complex character that makes it sound awkward though Andante while fashioning the wall subject upon a simple tune that is wholesome, full of life and in good spirits, free from any aggressive tension. When these contrasting subjects converge, they fit together comfortably, despite their many conflict and characteristics.

In scherzo one, Mahler may have attempted to reverse the outcome of the ninth-second movement by combining the two dance themes at the end in a joyous hodgepodge rather than proclaiming one triumphant over the other, the harmonic structure of scared so one and its relationship to the first movement is worth noting. Scherzo one contains several radical harmonic shifts, its beginning in F sharp minor undermines the peaceful F sharp major conclusion of the first movement. The same key change occurs in the Sixth Symphony if you’ve taken the scherzo movement, position second, between the first movements ending in a major and the scherzo beginning in A minor.
Then the movement makes its way through a variety of keys, some of them far removed harmonically from the ones they succeed. For example, the second subject is first presented in G minor and leads into the first trio and F major before the first theme returns to the tonic, the second trio begins in E flat major shifts to B major momentarily, and then to A major effort returned to the tonic. These harmonic twists and turns mirror the shifting metric patterns that create a sense of awkward imbalance, yet tonal shifts occur more frequently in the metrically regular trio sections. Since the movement ends affirmatively in F sharp major, it could be said that the overall tonal structure of the movement is an example of progressive tonality.

The first two movements relate to each other in much the same way as their counterparts in the Ninth Symphony, a large dramatic first movement containing the principle argument is followed by a lighter, more frivolous dance movement that becomes this temporary occasionally giving the impression that there’s more to this music than its carefree demeanor indicates. Much the same is true of the Allegro scherzo combination of movements in the sixth symphony, but in that coupling, the scared so is a parody of the Allegro, whereas in the 10th Symphony, the connection is not as direct reaching back to the ninth for a reference point. A horn choir opens the movement with a peasant dance rhythm set off balance by meter shifts in each bar, two rhythmic figures presented at the very beginning can join to form the basic dance rhythm of the first subject. A three-node mordant in anapestic rhythm, followed by hopping repeated quarter notes, four of them at first, then shortened to two or three, and a grace note at the half note, as this discombobulated rhythmic pattern proceeds, it seems to get stuck in the second of these rhythmic cells, trying to decide how many hopping quarter notes will work best. The constant changing of the number of repeated quarter notes for the skip-hop rhythmic figure, combined with metric shifts in nearly every measure keeps the dance music rhythmically out of kilter. When oboes enter with the first theme, this skip-hop rhythm disappears and is replaced by the opening three-note mordant, alternating with sharp strokes on the first two beats of each triple meter measure strongly punctuating the dance theme, so as to emphasize its ländleresque quality. Although rhythmically, unsettled the first theme has a jocular character with a touch of the demonic elicited by frequent interjections of to-beat punctuation marks that give the theme a sharp edge. A far cry from its usual appearance in a passionate or lyrical theme, the three-note rising upbeat into the bar that begins the theme recalls the motive of longing.

Mahler already parodied that motive in the finale of the Seventh Symphony. The first theme also contains the anapestic Morden figure from the horns opening rhythm, treated to various reconfigurations both a three-node rising upbeat and a three-node anapestic mordent, are principal motivic elements that appear throughout the scherzo section as the first theme continues, the incessant repetition of this three-node figure makes it seem that the theme is struggling to free itself from some form of restraint in order to attain stability. So within the context of shifting meters, these phrases undergo various revisions in an attempt to find some semblance of order and regularity. However, they only succeed in creating further confusion, making the landler sound more and more muddled. When it appears to give up at striving for stability, the landler bursts out with a little peccadillo in a flurry of frivolous figuration that recalls the inane scrap of rapid figuration interjected into the waltz subject in the Ninth Symphony second movement, as well as the flighty gestures that kept interrupting the alt faddish minuet, in the trio of the Sixth Symphony scherzo movement.

Meanwhile, horns tried to move the theme forward with thematic material that will return in the second scherzo, thus extending the first subject until it telescopes into the return of the introductory skip hop hop rhythmic pattern on the trumpets. Less than two measures later, the landler theme returns more assertively in second violins and violas with the first violins added after a few bars. After this jovial, although unstable dance theme is restated a scrap of the picadillo figuration sends it packing, horns join in with the motive of the devil’s dance as a thematic variant that contains a falling major second, the motive of farewell without a trace of the melancholy character given it in the Ninth Symphony, oboes and second, violins hinder the leveler’s skip-hop-hop rhythm, urging it to continue on its merry way, which it does with devilish glede and unflagging energy in the brass, woodwinds, and violins playfully present a counter theme that intertwines with the landler. The music builds to a strong statement of that theme by the full orchestra, and then gradually subsides as it appears to get stuck again on one of its rhythmic figures, this time the anapestic mordan, on its way to the second scared, so subject.

Violas continue a rhythmic pattern based upon the anapestic mordant and two horns return with the shifting metric pattern, ushering in the second theme in B flat major. Mahler reconstitutes the rising three-note upbeat, the flighty figuration, and the anapestic mordant of the first subject into a new theme, stated meagerly by the second violins, and kept off-balanced by the constantly shifting meters. The second theme shares much with the first theme, and even might be considered a reconfiguration of it. Although it lacks the first theme’s sharp edge, Mahler uses the falling eighth-note figure that began the second theme as rhythmic accompaniment.

A variation of the introductory rhythmic pattern in the bass suddenly crowds out the second subject with the onset of the first trio in F major. It has actually been a revised version of the second subject, which tries to develop into a full-blown theme for a few measures, until a horn brings back the second theme as a mirror image of the first, woodwinds expand upon the second subject by incorporating the grace noted half note and bouncy repeating quarter notes of the dance rhythm from the introduction.

As the second theme develops, its anapestic figure changes from a mordant to a phrase reminiscent of the opening three-node motive from the Ninth Symphony’s burlesque movement. After bouncing back and forth between woodwinds and strings, the second theme finally gives way to the introductory horn theme that is assumed left alone to reintroduce the first theme in the tonic key and extensive development adds an element of sonata form to the scherzo trio design. Soon the first theme becomes ruffled and presses forward, nervously, telescoping on an extension of its opening measure into the second trio, as if in a huff.

Suddenly, the tempo slows down considerably as the second trio begins with a to measure vamp on a three-note figure that rises first by a major third and then to the octave, like a broken chord without the fifth, the triple meter, and the rather remote key of E flat major are firmly established. Both the rhythmic flow and tonality of this trio are steady and regular in contrast with the unsteady irregular pulse and harmonic rhythm of the scherzo section but based upon a fragment from the Adagio theme of the first movement, inverting its first three notes. The second trios principal theme also contains rhythmic cells from the scherzo themes. Mahler directs that it be played in the character of a landler, Although as I mentioned earlier, it has a distinctive waltz like quality. Although the second trio theme begins assertively, it soon settles down and becomes as cheerful when played softly as when played forcefully.

As the second theme develops, Mahler frequently inverts its opening diatonic three-node figure and sets it in contrary motion with the original rising version. Rhythmic and thematic elements recall the trio of the landler movement from the First Symphony, and the early Wundehorn song Verlorne Müh, after a key shift to be natural, the second trio theme becomes even more lighthearted before E flat major returns, bringing with it another inversion of this waltz com landler theme, with super octave glissando leaps that follow each repetition of its falling three-note figure.
Violins and woodwinds enter into a dialogue on countervailing elements of this theme at the conclusion of the second trio section. Without closure or transition, the trio theme is interrupted abruptly in midstream while the return of the first scherzo subject.

During the scherzo section’s first reprise, its first theme becomes entangled in a dense web of its own motivic elements, it undergoes several key changes and continues its muddled A rhythmic distension it is apparently unable to decide just how many repeating eighths it wants to hop to when playing the introductions rhythmic pattern. When the music softens for a few measures, and the orchestra shrinks to a brass quartet, a hint of the trio’s waltz theme appears in the trombone and tuba underneath the first subject played by two trumpets, tempo one becomes fairly rapid, while the second subject returns in F sharp minor moving to D major. It sounds even more like an abbreviated version of the first theme than it did earlier. A few measures before the trios reprise a hint of the waltz theme’s opening three-node figure on a rising variant is played by trumpets and trombones, joined with its inversion on a syncopated rhythmic pattern in violins and woodwinds. With an emphatic statement of this inverted phrase played in quarter notes, the transition to the trio section’s reprise is accomplished.

Continuing in D major, the trio starts as before on a rising diatonic three-node figure with horns inverting the syncopated falling version of the same figure that had just segwayed into the trios reprise a few bars before, rising and falling variants of this three-node waltzing figure in various rhythmic guises, frolic about the trio theme playfully. For a moment, the theme seems to hesitate stuck on an iambic figure that would normally serve as an upbeat and repeating it in falling chromatic sequence. This hesitation has a calming effect upon the waltz, when it resumes very quietly in C major, some of its zest and sparkle has diminished. At first, another variant of the three-note figure combines with a landler-like dotted rhythm, its duple meter set against the triple meter rhythm of the violas eighth note figuration.
Soon the waltz theme returns, at first unsure of what form it should take, brief interruptions of the iambic figure cause the walls theme to reorganize in a hilarious display of variations in progress. A fragment of the theme is isolated and violins, it’s upbeat, reduced to a flickering grace note that falls by a seventh adding a comic touch. As with the waltz from the second movement of the Ninth Symphony, the churning rhythms of the trio theme create a circus-like atmosphere. A brief retard leads into the second reprise of the scherzo section on a faster version of the rising three-note figure that segues perfectly into the original version of the three node upbeat to the first theme.

Mahler uses the same transitional procedure in moving toward the reprise of the minuet landler theme in the Ninth Symphony second movement. During the opening measures of the first themes were prized fragments of the waltz enter stealthily. The variant of the three-note figure heard earlier and violins reappear in the basis and the dotted rhythm of the shcerzo’s landler theme is played by second violins simultaneously with the base figure. Without the slightest hesitation, the second subject enters raucously in the base.

Mahler’s treatment of various rhythmic elements is reminiscent of the development of the scherzo subjects in the scared souls of the sixth and ninth symphonies. The hopping repeated note figure constantly shifts between three short strokes and to longer ones and is embellished with grace notes, keeping everything so well balanced, that total chaos threatens to undermine the music’s forward progress. Once again, the scherzo runs right into the trio as if into a brick wall. The key shifts from F major to F sharp major, at a more halting pace, a single trumpet waxes lyrical over a phrase from the first theme. First violins counter with part of the trio’s waltz music, exhaustion seems to set in as the temple slackens.

Gradually the waltz theme gets going at an easier more relaxed pace, as if daydreaming frequently shifting meters characteristic of the scherzo, invade what was once the fairly stable territory of the trio. The music becomes more lilting and dreamy-eyed in its weariness. One is reminded of how the waltz from the scared so moving of the Fifth Symphony suddenly slowed down as if questioning its own frivolity. The syncopated dotted rhythmic figure that gives the waltz solemnly-like quality is but an inversion of the trio theme from that movement. As that figure develops, a horn hints at the music of scherzo two the fourth moment, when an oboe with violins, repeat the extended landler figure, violins emphatically stomp on a bit of the waltz willing figuration, giving the impression that they have had enough of this foolish daydreaming. And so they have for the music stops short, after the violins audacious outburst, and the scherzo subject abruptly returns as fresh and vital as ever.

The dotted rhythm of the landler and the rising diatonic three-note figure from the walls creep in jockeying between triple and double meters, as the first theme proceeds with force and vigor. Undaunted by these foreign elements soon B flat, established when the scherzo return changes to F sharp major, as the first subject continues on its merry way. Without a reprise of the scherzo second subject, the trio music suddenly returns, this time in D major, a piercing thrust of high a by a flute and second violins, sets the stage for the continued expansion of the landler like dotted rhythmic figure that was prominent during the trio’s previous appearance.

From here thematic elements from both scherzo and trio integrate contrapuntally and build to a powerful climax for full orchestra in which the first scared so theme combines with fragments of both the waltz and the second subject. Then the trio theme takes over in F sharp major, but in the temple of the scherzo subject, here Mahler sets the rising three note waltzing figure from the trio in the brass and violas against the dotted rhythmic landler figure of the scherzo in violins, but the scherzo subject will not be casually shunted aside, it reasserts itself mightily just as the trio theme becomes wilder than ever.
In the coda, the full orchestra takes up the first and then the second scared so themes in succession, as the music becomes so wildly agitated, that it approaches madness, just when it appears that the scherzo we’ll have the last word, horns ring out repeatedly with the rising syncopated three-note figure from the trios waltz theme. Woodwinds and violas desperately tried to crowd out this theme, with furious repetitions of a fragment from the scherzo second theme, superimposed upon waves of ascending figuration in trumpets, violins and violas. What follows is similar to the world when coda of the Fifth Symphony scherzo movement horns are left alone, to continue with the waltz is rising three-node figure when the whirling scared so music suddenly stops, as if in triumph, the rest of the orchestra rationally cuts them off with a scrap from the scared so subject set in contrary motion, as if the wave off the antagonist once and for all. Thus the movement comes to an abrupt end, we’ll begin the last excerpt from the powerful continuation of the scherzo’s first theme.

What at first seemed to be nothing more than contrasting dance subjects soon becomes increasingly competitive, and ultimately antagonistic by the movements end, although they appear as distant cousins in most of the movement, the eventual conflict of these dance themes toward the end of the movement, likened scherzo one too many of Mahler’s middle movements that present dance themes at war with each other, examples of bound, such as the second movement of the Ninth Symphony, the third movement of the fifth and the middle movement of the seventh, but unlike these earlier movements, in the 10th Symphony, scherzo one, instead of antagonism from the outset, the dance themes at first chair in a mood of joyful exuberance, not showing any signs of hostility, even when enjoying a bit of roughhouse but toward the movements close waltz and landler again become opponents vying for dominance to the very end.

By Lew Smoley

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